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Yeah, that’s my experience. Humbling to the point where you have major regrets about some of the stupid things you said, some of the things you thought were right. You keep going to these countries, and it’s like, you forgot the lesson from the last time. Because the first person you encounter kind of bitch-slaps you upside the head in the most wonderful, innocent way and you realize, God, I’m still an asshole. And this guy, by doing nothing except being broke and so incredibly polite—it takes you aback, you realize, I’m still not there yet. I still have like eight miles to go before I can even get into the parking lot of humility. I have to keep going back. It’s like going back to a chiropractor to get a readjustment. That’s me in Africa, that’s me in Southeast Asia. You come back humbled and you bring that into your life. It’s made me much more tolerant of other peoples—and I’m not saying I used to be a misogynist, or I used to be a racist, that was never my problem. But I can be extremely headstrong, impatient, rude. Like, “Hurry up, man. What’s your problem? Get out of my way.” That sentiment comes easy to me. Going to these countries, you realize none of that is necessary, none of it’s cool, it’s nothing Abraham Lincoln would do, and so why are you doing it? Those are the lessons I’ve learned. - Henry Rollins

14 February 2020, Rosso
Hotel Chemama UM1,300 (R520)


Neither of us slept well, but I, particularly, lay awake wondering how it was possible to be so incredibly stupid, so susceptible to bullying. Charl likened my behaviour to that of the Harvey Weinstein victims, each wondering how they had taken the first step that led to the others that put them in danger of harassment or rape.
I decided, through the long, critical hours, that we had to return to the port and try to get our money back, and our self-respect. Charl and I talked my plan through this morning over a simple hotel breakfast, and agreed that the first order of business was SIM cards so we could communicate with family, but more importantly, check our bank account for any untoward withdrawals; in the middle of the night we had suddenly wondered if the ATM booth was wired to read our card and pin number.
Our hotel host was going into town anyway, and offered us a lift, also telling us what to pay for a share taxi back. Shortly after we set out, he stopped to pick up two men, both wearing turbans. Charl was sitting in the front, so the men got in the back with me, the smaller of the two taking the middle seat, and being very careful not to touch me. In black Africa, even black Muslim Africa, there is less body consciousness; in Muslim Mauritania, touching a strange woman would be disrespectful. (I must remember not to shake hands…)
We bought Mauritel SIMs and data and were helped by the data salesman to get our connectivity properly set up. Only 3G available here, with apparently little connectivity outside the bigger towns. Oddly, our bank statement did not reflect the two withdrawals I made yesterday - I assume these will show up later. But otherwise all well… (or maybe just delayed?)
We were afraid of going to confront our tormentors, not even sure we would recognise the main antagonist. The plan: to tell him to give us back our money OR we would tell the gendarmes, tell the port authority, tell the South African embassy who would lodge a formal complaint with the Mauritanian government, tell all other embassies to warn their citizens about corruption at Rosso, write to all the Mauritanian newspapers about the scams. We were prepared to lie and say we had taken his photo yesterday and would attach it to all our letters. We would say the gendarmes, police and immigration / customs officials were complicit, perhaps getting him into some trouble. We even thought to get a little nuts, and say we would spend our entire 30-day stay in Rosso, harassing him when we saw him speaking to travellers, and handing out flyers with his photo and the caption THIEF.
None of this proved possible or necessary. We were allowed into the port area after handing the guard a photocopy of our passports. We could not see our man anywhere and were hovering, wondering what to do, when a gendarme approached us. We asked to speak to the gendarme “chef”. I apologised for not speaking French. He said he remembered us from yesterday “en velo” (on bikes). I said “a man stole our money and we want it back”. He said “problem” and gestured for us to wait beside him. Then got on the phone to someone, either a policeman or the scamster, who knows. A policeman came over and took us around the corner to one of the men who had been involved in harassing us, who asked how much had been taken and simply counted out and returned our UM5,000 (R2,000). Extraordinary. It was absolutely clear that this was how they minimise complaints. If someone comes back, give them their money and hope it ends there…
What relief we felt, not so much about the recouped financial loss, but the victory over our own stupidity.
The wind is horrible, and turns Rosso horrible. The unpaved streets and air are thick with sand and dust, and a dust haze obscures the horizon and a large segment of sky.
Tomorrow we begin for Nouakchott, nervous about facing the wind and the desert.

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